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Constant Phone Checkers Are Totally Strung Out

People who admit to relentless refreshing of e-mail and social media report far higher stress levels.
February 23, 2017

Do you check your phone when you wake up? Over breakfast? On the train? At your desk? In ... the bathroom? Of course you do—you’re a modern human being, a plugged-in, switched-on, ever-ready constant checker. And you’re probably totally stressed out, too.

The American Psychological Association has published findings from its most recent survey investigating our relationship with technology. And constant checkers who have convinced themselves that the act of refreshing e-mail and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and news alerts is totally fine may find that it makes for uncomfortable reading.

The APA’s surveys have people score their stress levels on a 0 to 10 scale—0 being “little or no stress” and 10 being “a great deal of stress.” This survey also asked its 3,511 respondents to describe how often they checked their phone. You can probably tell what’s coming.

People who claimed to check their phones regularly, but not constantly, scored an average of 4.4. Those who constantly checked their device nudged that number up to 5.3. And people who admitted to constantly checking their work e-mail even during days off bumped the figure up to 6.0.

These are, of course, self-reported numbers on a relatively arbitrary scale. But the trend is clear: people who check their phone more regularly also report higher stress levels.

The report contains some other disconcerting nuggets. Forty-five percent of parents say that they feel a sense of disconnection from their families, even when they’re sitting in the same room, because of technology. Forty-two percent of constant checkers reckon that political and cultural discussions on social media—if "discussions" is the right word—cause them stress. You get the idea.

So, what to do? Well, the survey also reveals that 65 percent of respondents think that some time away from their gadgets—a so-called “digital detox”—might help. But only 28 percent of those people have ever bothered to try it.

You could instead invest in a little technology to track your changing mood and take the edge off the stress, safe in the knowledge that the survey didn’t cover how much stress is caused by stress-busting technologies. Or you could stop checking your work e-mail on the weekend. Or in the bathroom.

(Read more: Stress in America: Coping with Change, “The Electric Mood-Control Acid Test,” “This Phone App Knows If You’re Depressed,” “Wrist Sensor Tells You How Stressed Out You Are”)

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